Grasscut – Q&A with Andrew Phillips

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The world of electronic music is a dumping ground; you must wade through stinking piles of waste to find the hidden treasures. Every now and then you’ll unearth something very special that wasn’t meant to be thrown out. Grasscut are one of the few truly organic, healthy life forces within this desolate landscape. Their sound is so polished it should be on window display in the world’s most ornate gift shops.

Grasscut don’t just sound different; they think differently too. The release of their last album Unearth on Ninja Tune, which received sparkling reviews across the music press, saw Andrew Phillips and Marcus O’Dair get physical with their audience by hiding cassettes and walkmans in secret locations around the UK and releasing weekly clues as to their whereabouts.

Now Andrew is busy writing their 3rd studio album, we grabbed a quick 5 minutes with his exceptional musical mind…

RB: How was the Unearth tour? What were your highlights?

AP: There were some spectacular moments – Aram our drummer driving at breakneck speed to get on a boat at the very last minute to play a wonderful festival on an island north of Holland; improvising with an amplified kite on a solar powered stage on a beach and walking away with a ceramic 78 recording of the piece we were playing; but best probably was playing with Kronos Quartet in Poland at Sacrum Profanum Festival. I do all the writing and studio stuff which is great but it can get a bit lonely! So it’s lovely to break out and rehearse and tour with Marcus and the band.

RB: Unearth was very different from your first album. Are there going to be any notable variations in your 3rd?

AP: The third will be different again. Building on tracks like Reservoir and We Fold Ourselves, with a more live sound, with drums and strings, and electronics playing more of a supporting role I think.

RB: How do you start the process of writing an album? Do you work around a theme?  

AP: I write initially on a guitar or piano, or get a vocal idea or lyric popping into my head, record it on my phone and if it keeps coming back into my head it kind of demands my attention. I sometimes am working on a track for a film and get interesting sounds or themes that I get to develop more freely in Grasscut.

RB: Why is so much of your music based around particular locations?

AP: The location thing is just the way my brain works I think – I dream as much about places as people or events, and am very interested in why affecting places feel as they do.

RB: Simply put, your music sounds emotionally intelligent. Obviously you guys are well educated etc, but how do you think you have managed to translate this into music? 

AP: Thanks very much! I think we are real sticklers for tone – we try to avoid anything remotely generic or predictable and try always to stay true to our original intentions, and if that’s emotionally intelligent, then great. I never ever use preset sounds or commercially available samples, spend a lot of time getting sounds right and try to compose music that feels at least new to me.

RB: You also write for film and tv. How does your writing technique differ, and does writing to brief limit or push your abilities?  Does snobbery exist around the issue?

AP: Writing for film and tv you have your own composer’s voice but you are always supporting a narrative, and working with the tastes of the director – but I love that challenge, and still always try to make it sound new whether working with electronics or an orchestra. Writing for Grasscut has a different set of challenges but it’s still a kind of brief in a much freer way. Marcus and I talk a lot about ideas and how they feel in the context of our band, and then I go and write and produce songs. It’s an unusual process perhaps but it works for us, and it allows part of him to be quite objective about it, which is really important.
I don’t know or care whether there’s snobbery about writing for tv. I choose the work I do and the people I work with in that area very carefully, and am very proud of my work, and avoid commercial tv. I’ve recently finished scoring a feature documentary on the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster for cinematic release (featuring Grasscut string players Emma & Vince aka Geese), and I’m currently working on a short feature, voiced by Bill Nighy, about a journey along the Grand Union Canal in London. Home and Away it’s not….
We’ll keep you posted on Grasscut’s new album.



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